Monday, January 31, 2011

Cabin Building - All Closed In!!

Thanks to Ken, our wonder-neighbor, we used the last two "warm days" (hahaha - yes, Zero is warm) to get the last two end walls framed up and sheathed in and the stove and chimney installed.  YAY!!!!

Now all we have to do is seal up/cover over the expansion gaps in the sheathing, fire up the stove, and get to caulking and spray foaming so we can blow in our insulation. That will let us get started on all the interior work so it can be done by the time it finally warms up enough to do more exterior work before the spring rains come. Really, it was barely warm enough for G-man to climb up on the roof and battle 8+" of snow to install the chimney and flashing... brrrrrrrr.

By the dawn's early light... about 9:30 am.

The south side all framed and sheathed.

The north side all framed and sheathed.

Got the front door in to match the back door we got installed earlier. Plus the old utility staircase got another makeover to tide us over temporarily until we get the porches done.

The best way to run cables and hoses through a doorway during winter construction to keep the little bit of heat the propane & kerosene heaters are giving us inside!

And our new stove finally in the right position. Of course, now Ken & G have to herniate themselves to lift it again so I can get the hearth pad lined up properly.

The first floor from the SW living room corner, showing the stairway (ladder is temp) and the pantry with back door.

And the first floor from the NE corner (pantry) into the SW corner showing the living room and our Visqueen windows.

Enclosed 2nd floor, from the bedroom (south side) toward the "office" and stairway. Ken's long legs as he's trying to frame in the flue support box for our stove and chimney.

Enclosed 2nd floor from the north side stairway toward the "bedroom".

Beautiful sunset out the chimney hole in the roof. Yes, all that snow is on the roof!

Couldn't quite get a finished pic with the chimney installed because it got dark too fast... but this eerie landscape is a result of the trucks warming and me forgetting not to breath in the cold while trying to snap a pic. Cool, ain't it?!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

eBook Greed

I read a lot; and I read fairly fast, a normal fiction paperback only lasts me a day. I live in a tent, and eventually a cabin that's not much bigger; I simply do not have the space to keep a large library of physical books. There is no library or bookstore even remotely close to us, so I rely heavily on digital publications that I can download online. All-in-all, I think the digital book revolution is great and wonderful thing; however....

I think paying paperback price for a digital edition is a sin. The Sin of Avarice to be exact.

See, I used to be in the publishing game. I know how the system works. When you pay $7 for a paperback, only about a dollar (give or take) goes to the author, the rest goes to the retailer, the printing and distribution companies, and the largest chunk to the publisher. Now, with an eBook, all the cost of printing and distribution pretty much goes away. Yeah, you need a small investment in Digital Rights Management software and a website for sales and promotion, but that equates to pennies per copy (at the most!! more like fractions of pennies for a best-selling author). So, where does all that extra money go? Mostly right into the publisher's hands for doing nothing more than clicking a button on their typesetting program to export into a DRM digital version. That's it... pretty much nothing, and they get to double or triple their take. Very few authors get any additional percentage of the sale unless they have a really spiffy contract for an additional percentage of the sales on digital rights as opposed to hardback and paperback rights.

But seriously -- if paperbacks are half the price of hardbacks, why aren't eBooks half the price of paperbacks? And now even magazines and newspapers are doing it... digital subscriptions for the same price as paper subscriptions. Jesus wept, folks! Digital delivery removes a huge chunk of operating costs and you still want us to pay top dollar? Really? Greed Greed Greed. It's slightly more excusable if the author is making the additional profit, but it's still greed and a Big No-No as far as I'm concerned. It's just plain wrong in my book (pun intended!).

I love my Kindle... but not loving the publisher set pricing on Amazon for the proprietary DRM content. Might just have to go back to the non-proprietary PC reader formats and my discount eBook sellers... even though they have a more limited selection and a lot of publishing houses won't distribute through them since they don't make as much of a profit. If I were an author working with one of those houses, I'd be really worried about losing my faithful followers due to the pricing... I really really would. You can only gouge your consumer base so long before they start to get really pissed off and stop buying altogether... especially buying from you ever again, even if you eventually buckle and lower your prices in the future.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A sobering reminder...

It doesn't take long to be injured, sometimes fatally, by the winter weather. So we're not exaggerating when we say at times its too cold...

Yesterday a 14 year old boy died of exposure walking home from a friends house in Kipnuk (towards the coast to the south west of Bethel) at an estimated 50 below temp and wind gusting to 70 mph.

Below is a report from

A 14-year-old boy who was last seen leaving a friend’s house to walk home in the extreme cold was found dead today in the Southwest Alaska village of Kipnuk, troopers say.

Searchers began looking for Brandon Anaver at about 8 p.m. Sunday, according to a trooper report. Winds in the village approached 70 miles an hour and rescuers were unable to follow the boy’s tracks in the dark, troopers said.

A house-to-house search and calls over the VHF radio in the Yup’ik village of roughly 670 people uncovered no sign of Anaver.

Rescuers began looking again at daylight today. At 1 p.m., a tribal police officer told troopers the boy had been found about a mile and a half downriver from the village.

He appeared to have died of exposure, troopers said.

Kipnuk is roughly 85 miles southwest of Bethel. Troopers say there were no signs of foul play.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just Hop on the Bus Gus

Winter travel can be such a blast. This fall, our local native tribal council decided to institute a bus service twice a week (up Monday-back Tuesday, and up Thursday-back Friday, with some weekends around the holidays if there's demand) from Manley council building to the main bus depot in Fairbanks. There's a scheduled stop in Minto at the council's lodge, but residents along the length of the highway can call ahead and schedule a reservation for pick along the road if they can't get to one of the council locations. And, if you make arrangements ahead of time, you can reserve cargo space to haul back a goodly amount of stuff. It's a pretty nifty idea considering that winter driving can be pretty hazardous, and many folks up and down the Elliott might not adequate vehicles for the trek into town to get supplies, and $40 round trip is definitely cheaper than $150 in gas or a seat on the mail plane. All-in-all, it's a really great public service.

Well, that's the theory anyway.

Unfortunately, sometimes the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. These sorts of things really need really good planners who can identify all the possible risks and assess the additional equipment that may be required. Our little bus is pretty cool, and would be more than adequate for, say, a country spa/retreat shuttle somewhere in the Lower 48 on a paved road with more moderate weather. It's just not quite "enough" for routine 3+ hour trips on an icy gravel highway through the hills at temps below -20F. To manage that sort of abuse, you need extra heaters and extra electrics to manage that, and a really kick-ass mechanic to keep it all running at tip-top. Sadly, this is not the case, and the bus seems to visit the shop in Fairbanks every time it's in town... sometimes even getting stuck there! Guess their mechanics aren't any better than the local handyman mechanic that works for the council. Ooops!

My trip this Thurs/Fri was pretty fun. First, we couldn't get the truck started because it was too cold, so I had to hike a mile up to the side of the road for pickup... and Ken was late because of a delay departing the council building, so I got to stand out in -45 for almost 30 minutes on top of the mile hike. Joy!! Then we had two major mechanical issues that were a little concerning... one was minor, the other not so much. On the minor, there was this really annoying rattle from the right side of the engine compartment the whole way up and back that didn't get fixed while it was in the shop overnight... I suspect this is because the fiberglass fuselage around the front fender and engine housing has completely cracked and is vibrating on the bumpy road. Secondly, for no apparent reason, the voltage dropped to just barely 12v halfway back home in possibly the worst possible section of road... this meant that Ken had to shut down all the lights and heaters just for us to make it into Minto where he shut down in hopes that the alternator would reset and start kicking out the proper voltage again. OK - losing heaters when it's -45 and windy as hell is totally not fun... neither is wondering whether or not you're going to make it home without having a 30 miles hike in those temps. Luckily, I was the only person besides Ken (the driver that day) who didn't get off at Minto and we had all the proper cold weather gear in case we had to hike or wait for rescue. Not everyone riding the bus wears or carries the proper gear, and that's really poor planning on their part!!.

And then there's the passengers....  Granted, I'm biased because I've got Aspergers and Anxiety Disorder and really don't like being crammed in a metal box with a lot of strangers. For the most part, the other folks were cool. But the ones who weren't cool, really weren't cool. The rules say no drinking alcohol and no riding intoxicated... clearly, these drunken fools must realize that most people aren't going to pull the bus over in the middle of nowhere when it's well below freezing and kick them to the curb. And I must admit that, although I have an abnormally large bladder capacity and can make the entire trip without a potty break, I still don't understand how some people can't make it the 45 minutes between bio-break stops without begging the driver to stop so they can pee. I mean, really, we're in the middle of nowhere on a snowy road and you want us to just stop?! Legally, the driver isn't supposed to stop except at the designated full pull-outs where he can get completely off the road... learn to hold it or carry a jug for heaven's sake!

Of course, Dead Milkmen's "Taking Retards to the Zoo" came on my Zen (I'm anti-Apple, no iPod for me!) during the trip, which made it all bearable. And we got our new favorite tool... an electric log splitter!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Technology, Fuel and Work Units

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, G-man and I aren’t Luddites. We don’t abjure technology; we just practice moderation and attempt to tread lightly upon the Earth when we can. However, one thing I’ve noticed in the recent “Green Movement” is a sort of religious zealotry that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Over and over I see miraculous leaps of logic, often flawed or missing/ignoring huge chunks of data, which borders on rapid fervor as the neophytes take up arms in their Crusade. I personally find this disheartening since it will eventually lead to apathy and backlash against sustainable lifestyles (arguably, this is already happening).

With this in mind, having witnessed both the extremes of technophobes vs. technophiles and austere minimalism vs. rampant consumerism, I thought I’d share a little of my philosophy for those of you who may be more realistic and practical. The decision to become more self-sufficient and live sustainably is a personal choice most of us “homesteader” and “back-to-the-land” types make. Many of our friends and family do not agree with us or even attempt to understand why we would seek such a thing. The confusion and struggle is further compounded by all the conflicting information we find while researching or discussing our plans. It’s no wonder that many give up before they ever take their first few real steps towards their dreams. It’s hard to go it alone, especially when no one seems to agree.

So why isn’t there more agreement? Certainly some smart people out there must have figured out the “right way” or the “best solution”… right? Well, NO. See, that’s the problem that so many of us make, and definitely one that the legislators and zealots make A LOT. There is no single right way, no single best solution. Each of us has different goals, different skills, different resources, and different motivations; and that doesn’t even take into account different cash flow and different climates and different environments. Given all the unique factors that an individual must take into account, how can we expect to have a single right answer? We simply can’t, it’s just not realistic. We each need to figure out what we need to do for our desired situation and then determine how to best achieve it based on our individual parameters.

One of the fundamentals: every unit of work requires some amount of fuel consumption, some amount of time investment, and some amount of embodied energy. For those not familiar, embodied energy is basically all the time and effort required to provide something that you later use to complete a task… not for the actual task itself, but the fuels, tools and materials you use to complete it. For example, you use a rifle to hunt game for food, hunting being your task; but that rifle represents a significant amount of embodied energy… all the machines, labor, man-hours and fuel that transforms raw material into the finished good that we can then utilize (mining, smelting, casting, crafting, assembling, transportation, distribution, selling, etc etc). It’s like “food miles”.

So, you can imagine that many times lots of the real costs (the embodied energy and the full financial costs) of a solution may not be transparent, or accurately depicted, when it’s being discussed. And all too often differing solutions aren’t compared apples-to-apples… this is really common when people start discussing ERoEI (energy returned on energy invested) with regards to renewable energy systems. It’s just too easy to look at only plane of data points and say “well 10 cents of grid power is cheaper than $10k in solar panels, especially since they’re only 35% efficient”.  Well… sort of… but it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. You need to dig deeper, get down to discrete units and raw materials before you can really decide (for yourself!) which is true in your circumstance.

With the exception of solar, wind, geothermal and hydro (which are cosmic and/or planetary), we know that some sort of fuel needs to be consumed (wood, coal, gas, biomass, plutonium, whatever) to produce energy required to complete a work unit. So it may actually cost less in the grander scheme of things to produce your electricity via solar pv/wind/etc because the embodied energy is lower and more than offsets your grid prices. The cost of acquiring raw/recycled materials, manufacturing and transportation of the components in your off-grid system could be the same or lower than your portion of the same costs for all that’s required to provide grid power (lots of hidden costs there – think TAXES!), but with the added benefit of zero-cost “fuel” since you don’t have to consume anything or invest any more energy in the acquisition and processing of fuel… the sun will shine, the wind will blow, the Earth will heat, the rivers flow and the tides surge whether or not you ever spend another second thinking about it. Ok… you might have to dust your panels, or oil your turbine, but that’s a fairly low overall operating cost.

Anyway, this isn’t really about power plants vs. private renewable systems. This is really about you, the individual, determining what the best method for you, based on your goals and resources, to achieve the results that you want and not letting the invisible nature of embodied energy slip your mind while you’re planning. It’s too easy to say “well, I’ll just chop trees with an axe for firewood”. Sure, that does certainly work… however, manpower (or animal power) still requires the consumption of fuel – food – and the production and acquisition of that fuel has a certain amount of embodied energy associated with it. So, based on how much firewood you need and what you need it for and how many trees are available to you and how easily you can acquire and transport them and all those same considerations for all the food you need to fuel that endeavor plus all the time you need to invest in wood processing and food processing that you won’t be able to do anything else (like sleep or build a barn)… well, maybe you might just want to consider using a chainsaw and a mechanical log splitter even if  the sticker price is higher and you have to use a bit of fossil fuel.

Whether you chose to do things by hand or animal, or use a mechanical or electronic device, all depends on what units of work you need to complete, how many man-hours you have to complete them, and what trade-offs make sense to you. It’s personal and unique. I choose wood to heat my house (for several reasons), but you might do better using passive solar or propane or geo-thermal. Once you reduce your overall consumption (and, believe me, over-consumption is the cancer in the system!), you can take the time to break down all your tasks into discrete parts to determine where you can really get the most bang-for-your-buck using a bit of tech (or a higher BTU fuel source), what bits of tech you can multi-purpose, and which fuels/ power-sources/processes/tech are most efficacious for you. Efficacious doesn’t necessarily mean 100% efficient … just that it effectively meets your requirements to your satisfaction – no need to be a perfectionist when a little dab will do ya, right?

For us, efficacious means prudent use of fossil fuels (for many personal and practical reasons) and increasing the efficiency of certain processes (like bio-intensive gardening and management-intensive farming), with the thoughtful use of mechanical and electronic tech, to achieve long term sustainability utilizing as many of the abundant local resources in non-polluting and non-wasteful ways as possible. We have to accept some waste and losses, but we try to limit them as much as possible. Your definition and the solutions you come up with will be different… I guarantee it. Which is why I don’t often give detailed or prescriptive (or is that proscriptive? LOL) advice – just suggestions and alternatives that you can research and vet for yourself. I’m happy to help you brainstorm, but don’t expect me to tell you exactly what you need to do… cuz if ya don’t have brains enough to figure some of this stuff out for yourself, how in the heck ya gonna survive out here all on your own? It’s sort of like a proficiency exam for  self-sufficiency :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Moderating comments for a while

Due to certain circumstances, all commenting will be moderated for a period.

Sorry if this causes any problems.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ah, the Joys of "helping" people

Ok so after a little mail exchange today with one of our followers, who apparently is a little upset that we haven't responded to them personally since, oh I dunno mid December (I mean hell 3 weeks is an eternity right...?), here's Gungnir's rules for helping out with advice for those who want to try to follow in our metaphoric footsteps or just want to know how we did something.
  1. We will respond as our schedules will allow, we offer advice for free, we are real people with real lives this isn't a reality show and we're not getting paid for it. That means that sometimes we're not able, willing or even motivated enough to provide you with a timely service (that's timely according you your timeline not ours). If you'd like a timely service them please feel free to contact with a consulting company of which there are many for your questions, often these companies will charge a fee, but as they say you get what you pay for.
  2. Do not whinge, demand, act entitled, or be disrespectful, you asked for our help, we did not ask to help you out. Any of these acts will likely cause me to either delay or completely ignore any subsequent contact. If you respond with some kind of negative mail I will respond with perhaps good advice that may help you adjust to life in Alaska (if you ever get here) you a free to ignore this advice, however we are not so different to most Alaskans, so if you do choose to ignore this advice then you may later find that Alaska is not the place for you. Most important advice I ever give is that in Alaska, unless you set a date, people who agree to help will help when their schedule allows (this means when they feel like it). Don't have a hissy fit if you haven't set a date you want the help by, and you blow past that date, that just makes the person who agreed to help to retract the offer, and flip the bozo bit. Independence is highly respected here, go get some if you don't have some already.
  3. Follow the blog and postings that are made, often you will see hints and tips explaining what we're doing, or our current status, that will give you an idea as to our immediate priorities and any possible delays. Bear in mind there is always fuel and water to haul, and wood to split on top of anything else that you're seeing.
  4. Winter is not the best time to ask for assistance, we currently use about 1/3-1/2 cord of wood a week that needs splitting for heating, not doing this is not an option in less than a day our living space will be at ambient temperature, so even when we're sick, tired, and have no light this is happening (more than once I've had to split a 1/8 cord at 9:00pm and 30 below because something got us home late). It's tedious and a grind, and it can make us a little cranky. It's necessary however, because without doing it, we would at times never get the generator running so we could get the truck running, and that's assuming that the temperature is high enough so that we are not at risk of dying by being at that sustained temperature. Next year may be different, we'll let you know.
  5. If you have a deadline, then let us know. For 10 years prior to this my work environment was based around deadlines, if there is no deadline, then I'll get around to it when it's convenient, which may mean that other priorities are put first, including the less enjoyable priorities of taking the poop buckets to our pile or the more enjoyable such as sighting in a rifle or getting some plinking or just sleeping in may be prioritized far ahead of your current burning issue.
  6. Be prepared to look at your problem from our situation, we are trying to build a house in a place where the road is a mile away, that road leads roughly 135 miles to the nearest real civilization as people in the lower 48 know it. We have done nearly all of what we have by ourselves, everything here was brought in by us, from the lumber for the house to the gas for the generators. There have been no vacations, time off is what we have after we've done the chores, or going to watch a game in the NFL playoffs at a friends in Manley. There are no weekends here, no schedule except chores.
  7. Your emergency is not my priority.
So after all of that, if you still want our help and advice, then please feel free to contact us, either as a comment, or in private. Since this is the first person that we've helped who responded in this way (strangely no one else has complained) I figure that it might be a good idea to post my ground rules. As a by the way, if you offer help to us, those same rules apply to us. At least one of our readers knows this, he offered to come help out this summer, and for one reason or another it didn't come about (you know who you are ;P) no problems at all we appreciate the offer and will accept it wholeheartedly when their situation is such that they can deliver on their offer.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Winter's Day

Sun setting to the south - 3 pm
Sun setting behind the naked Aspens - SW 3:30 pm
Sunset reflecting off hills to the north.

Sunset reflecting off hills to the north, framed by our trail.

It's been snowing a lot since it warmed up :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Noon on Christmas day

Here's a pic we took at noon on Christmas day for your delection.

A happy and prosperous New Year to all of our followers

Hello to our readers, and a happy and prosperous New Year to us all (and Belated Seasons Greetings too).

So since it's starting a new year I thought I'd better post something, and anyway we have quite nice temps it's 10F outside according to our little thermometer.

Over the past couple of weeks we had Christmas with the neighbors, which included games of Pictionary (where we warned them repeatedly that having Plick and I on the same team was highly unfair to our opponents), and Phase 10 (a lot like Rummy) and much eating. Last night I went up there to watch some New Year arson going on with a small fireworks display, in the dark it's very understandable that doing this on July 4th is likely a really bad idea, as you watch little red burning things descend slowly into the black spruce.

Other than those events we've been kicking back and trying to kick some bugs (or the same bug) we've picked up, it's always the same at this time of year, just like cold and flu season everywhere else, I guess.

There have been some technical issues, my Laptop died, in unusual circumstances, somehow the little soldier that could survived a couple of high falls, a full cup of coffee, being frozen outside at -40F for half an hour while I repointed our satellite dish (and subsequent frozen condensation), repeated impacts to the power connector (from the dog) that is notoriously fragile on the model it is, and playing some graphic intensive games while the heat sink was a bit gummed up and the thing was hot enough to be very uncomfortable on your lap. However after those abuses, the little soldier that could died due to a small splash of more coffee (and I mean small). He will be sorely missed, until I figure out the parts he needs for his resurrection. Our wireless router died too, for no apparent reason, the gods are not happy I fear.

This morning we were woken by one of our new neighbors coming in to say "Hi", well that all nice and all, but driving in here on a snow machine and a rifle boot doesn't make me feel good, and asking where the trail behind out tent goes is none of your damned business, it's on our property please go perform a physically impossible activity. Oh and apparently his son has parked his truck somewhere on the trail that may make it difficult for us to get out (or he wouldn't have mentioned it) hope not, boyo, or the truck might wind up winched into the trees back about 10 feet. You know the irritating thing, is the presumption, the presumption that coming up to our place and asking questions is ok, that leaving a truck in a place that might be inconvenient is ok (given that there's about 2' of snow on top of ice, on top of 6" of snow). Oh and his Arctic Camo was irritating too, hey moron, if you get hurt how is someone going to easily see you in your swanky arctic camo suit unless you're fountaining blood, it's not like most animals you'd hunt see colors anyway, and anything to break up your outline will work just as well. Oh and apparently I was standing outside freezing, in my Mucks, jeans and undershirt, really? I'm probably going to cut wood dressed like this in about an hour, it's freaking 10F that's 60 degrees warmer than I was cutting wood last week. Please get a clue... Oh and I hope to high heaven they haven't touched our firewood or there's going to be a damned deliverance moment. Now perhaps you guys can understand why we moved to the boonies... :)